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Taxonomy of Picoides pubescens (Downy Woodpecker) from the Pacific Northwest

M.R. Browning
Era of Allan Phillips: A Festschrift
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Three subspecies of Picoides pubescens (Downy Woodpecker) are currently recognized in the Pacific Northwest (Peters 1948; American Ornithologists’ Union [A.O.U.] 1957; Short 1982; Winkler et al. 1995): gairdnerii Audubon, 1839 (type locality: no locality given = Fort Vancouver, WA; but see beyond) from southwestern British Columbia to western Washington, Oregon, and Mendocino County in northwestern California; turati Malherbe, 1860 (near Monterey, CA) from north-central Washington to central Oregon and north-central interior and humid coastal California; and leucurus Hartlaub, 1852 (Rocky Mountains) from the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, to British Columbia east of the coastal mountains, eastern Washington and Oregon, northeastern California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, east to Montana, and Nebraska.

The subspecies gairdnerii has been characterized as darker below than other subspecies, with the wing coverts unspotted (Short 1982) or with the coverts mostly unspotted (Winkler et al. 1995). However, almost all birds from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and many from the southern parts of the range of gairdnerii have white spots on the tertials and coverts. The presence of tertial spots on specimens from southern Vancouver Island is a character ascribed to P. p. fumidus, an unrecognized (A.O.U. 1890) subspecies proposed by Maynard (1889). Specimens of gairdnerii, compared with turati, are said to be larger (Winkler et al. 1995) and by as much as 5–8% (Short 1982), but the elements used for size comparisons by these authors was not indicated. However, the mean for wing chord of gairdnerii is about 5% longer than turati from most of California (Short 1971: Table 1). Aldrich (in Jewett et al. 1953: 413) had already reported that turati from Washington is “larger than the average for that [= turati from California] form”. Because some characters of some subspecies of P. pubescens differ from modern descriptions (Short 1982; Winkler et al. 1995), I review geographic variation in the northwestern populations and recharacterize them.

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